Blog 36. The Family: Has Sibling Rivalry Affected Your Self-Worth And Has It Made You Feel A Failure?
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Anyone with brothers or sisters will understand that sibling rivalry and the jealousy this topic invokes can be very destructive.
Although sibling rivalry is supposed to be a training ground for life: it’s supposed to teach you how to share; how to take turns; how to reason; how to cope with disappointment; how to get back up after being defeated and how to negotiate. Often what is actually experienced is the exact opposite.
When siblings are young they learn to compete for parental attention and affection. This pattern can continue right up to the death of both or either parent/s.
Every child has different qualities and one would hope that parents would celebrate and teach each sibling to honour their sibling’s talents or different personalities. Unfortunately this is not always the case.
Even if parents do teach children to acknowledge one another’s differences, sometimes when a sibling for whatever reason gets more attention from the outside – from friends or teachers, then this balance can be disrupted.
However studies show (and you can Google this) that it’s usually the parents who are responsible for sowing the seeds of tension that exist between siblings.
Sometimes parents erroneously try to level the playing field by protecting and supporting the child who doesn’t excel at anything, thereby making the others feel less appreciated or loved. So it’s not always the gifted child who is smothered with praise and treated as special.
Although some siblings seem to get along better than others, parents can also find conflict between their children a great source of distress and are often unsure whether to get involved or remain on the sidelines.
If however, sibling rivalry is left unchecked, then it can continue into adulthood and it can become the source of lifelong problems.
Research even shows that early sibling aggression, when not dealt with, can lead to ongoing learning, social and mental health problems.
Worst still, and later on in life, if one sibling perceives the other as having a hugely successful life having achieved a good marriage or a good career and so on, then this could lead to feelings of failure, a lack of self-worth and massive jealousy.
While it’s only natural to compare ourselves with our brothers and sisters, there’s often an irrational knee-jerk tendency to blame them for our own limitations.
And if there was any form of favouritism within a family, whether intentional or not, this could be agonising for those witnessing the praise and constant confirmation of a sibling’s success.
What happens in childhood invariably shapes the rest of our lives.
It is so important not to compare children in front of one another. Children develop at different times and excel at different things.
Also, children aren’t stupid. They know if their sibling is brighter or cleverer at certain things.
This is why it’s so important for parents to strive to accentuate the positive and to accentuate abilities or any uniqueness observed.
If families understood that children cannot control what their sibling does, but they can control their reaction to whatever the sibling has achieved, then rivalry can be curtailed.
If the family works as a unit to support each child individually, this can then help children overcome envy or feeling that they’re somehow living in the shadow of their sibling.
There’s always going to be a little bit of jealousy between siblings, which is a normal part of human nature, but when this turns into envy, it brings out the absolute worst in people.
Sibling rivalry or envy is like a festering wound and it can sour relationships to the point where people cannot bear the idea of their siblings being successful, or even happy, and instead they take pleasure in their failures.
This kind of corrosive and destructive sibling envy can affect one’s inner being to such an extent that it can also effect personal relationships.
And family occasions such as Christmas, Anniversaries, births, death and special occasions can be horribly affected by this rivalry, which can result in family fights and divisions.
And as parents age what the children will inherit can become another area of discontent and terrible heartache when one child gets disinherited and another gets it all.
Tensions often run high when inherited wealth is at stake. In some cases dividing up an estate is merely the catalyst for deep feelings and long-held grudges that surface after the death of a parent, when they are no longer there to arbitrate.
If for any of the above reasons, a sibling has become estranged from their family, this can be a very lonely place to be.
Confronting a family can be very difficult. As I wrote in the last two Blogs, often families prefer to keep their behaviour either secret or unchallenged. Parents don’t usually like being judged or told that they lacked parenting skills. It is sometimes very hard to explain to a parent what has developed over all the years without a parent feeling guilt, even anger, leading possibly to denial.
Sibling rivalry can have long lasting effects on one’s self-confidence, self-worth and this can effect relationship and career choices later on.
So I urge you not to repeat the destructive patterns of sibling rivalry with your own children. Keep on the alert for any envy or jealousy. You may not always get it right but at least you can try not to let any child feel you love one of them more.
So what’s stopping you?
Note: © 2014 Information Copyright Deidré Wallace
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